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Proper prayers before funerals
Q. Some of us are upset that our new pastor has replaced the Rosary on the evening before funerals with a vigil service. Our old pastor always used the Rosary, and this is what most people requested. Our new pastor says that the Rosary is an unofficial prayer and that there is an official vigil service that should be used. Please comment.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
It seems that both your former pastor and your new one are not quite up to speed on what is appropriate for use on the evening before funerals. Your former pastor was correct in responding to requests that the Rosary be used. This is the tradition that many people have been raised on, and it remains quite appropriate today. It seems, however, that your former pastor may have erred by not using the official vigil service as well. The fact is both the official vigil service and the Rosary may be used at the same gathering. The vigil service (which is essentially a Liturgy of the Word) takes pride of place. This may be followed by the Rosary if this is what family members request.
Your new pastor is correct in promoting the official vigil service on the evening before funerals. This is what the Church provides for this occasion, and it should be used no matter what else is requested. However, the denial of the Rosary to the bereaved hardly demonstrates pastoral sensitivity. The Rosary may be recited after the vigil service is over.
What if your pastor continues to refuse the use of the Rosary along with the vigil service? There is a simple solution: Inform him politely that someone from the family or a family friend will be leading the Rosary after the vigil service is finished.
The vigil of funerals is meant to be an extended affair and all kinds of prayers may be used. The vigil service itself also provides that someone from the family or a friend of the deceased may speak in remembrance of the one who has died. While the funeral Mass does not provide for people giving talks on the deceased (a growing practice), the service used on the day before the funeral Mass provides plenty of opportunity for various people to express their remembrances of the deceased and to express their faith in the Resurrection.
Priests in Public Office
Q. May a priest run for political office?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Church’s 1917 Code of Canon Law forbade priests to engage in a number of occupations considered to be incompatible with their spiritual ministry — among these was holding any public office that gave the priest civil authority over laypeople. By the middle of the century this prohibition had been relaxed to the point that a Jesuit priest, Father Robert Drinan, served 10 years as a member of the House of Representatives, and took part in the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. In 1980, Pope John Paul II specifically asked Father Drinan’s religious superior, Father Pedro Arrupe, to counsel Father Drinan against seeking another term of office. Father Drinan agreed at once.
When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was promulgated, it contained this prohibition, “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power” (Canon 285.3).
Before this, however, Pope John Paul had clearly addressed the issue in visits with clergy in foreign countries. In Mexico, he said: “Leave political responsibilities to those who are charged with them. You have another part, a magnificent part … participating in the priesthood of Christ … where it is expected that you preach … by a courageous word and … example of your life.”
An Unforgiveable Sin?
Q. Is there any unforgiveable sin?
Dana, via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
A quick answer is, there are no unforgiveable sins, but there can be unforgiveable sinners. To explain: there is no sin which in itself cannot be forgiven if the sinner is truly contrite and seeks forgiveness. But if a person does not seek forgiveness, he cannot be forgiven. God the Father never forces forgiveness on a person. That forgiveness would be meaningless.
Verses for the Agnus Dei ?
Q. I have a question about music in the Mass. Are we supposed to sing “verses” for the Agnus Dei rather than repeat “Lamb of God” three times, or are both forms correct?
D.L, Rugby, N.D.
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
I would start with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which addresses the specific issue you raise: “The supplication Agnus Dei is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace)” (No. 83).
When the invocation Agnus Dei is repeated more than three times, it is meant to accompany the liturgical action of the celebrant with a prayerful chant. Silence is necessary as part of the liturgy, but there are other moments reserved for silence. From the indications set forth in the GIRM, it is not at all apparent that permission has been granted to add new words (“King of Kings,” “Lord of Lords,” “Bread of Angels”), no matter how beautiful and fitting they might seem. Nevertheless, the version you mention is well-known, and I have not heard objections to it in the past. Still, my sense is the words “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” should be repeated just as they are until the rite has reached its conclusion and the people pray “grant us peace.”
Christ’s Descent into Hell
Q. In the Apostles’ Creed, it says he descended into hell. Can you provide some definition of that statement or clarification that will satisfy a group of laypeople who say he did not descend into hell?
For a comprehensive explanation of what the Apostles’ Creed means when it states that Jesus died and descended into hell, one should consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see Nos. 631-638). These reflections remind us that when we say Jesus rose from the dead, we are not simply expressing our belief that he triumphed over his own death, but that he actually returned from a sojourn among the souls of all the dead. “In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him” (No. 637).
In 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas preached a series of Lenten sermons on the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary. He said the first lesson we should learn from Christ’s descent among the dead is one of hope. He based his argument on Scripture, but also appealed to common sense, remarking we can suffer nothing worse than punishment in hell. “So,” he concluded, “if Christ freed those who were in hell, anyone — provided he is a friend of God — should be confident that God will deliver him from his straits whatever they are.”
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